Orbiter Autopsies "What NASA will learn from dissecting Space Shuttles Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour" before they transition into retirement. (From the May 2012 issue of Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine.)
"A space station is a serious place. We're doing serious research." Rovio and NASA further explore the classic avain-porcine rivalry (and microgravity) through a Space Act Agreement. Angry Birds: Space is launching today.
Auroras Underfoot is a short documentary about auroras by NASA, which uses high-definition images taken by International Space Station science officer Don Pettit of aurora from orbit. Pettit writes about the difficulties of taking photographs from orbit and other subjects on his blog.
"Nature is not always the best designer, at least when it comes to things that humans must build and maintain. So the newest artificial heart doesn’t imitate the cardiac muscle at all. Instead, it whirs like a little propeller, pushing blood through the body at a steady rate. After 500 million years of evolution accustoming the human body to blood moving through us in spurts, a pulse may not be necessary. That, in any case, is the point of view of the 50-odd calves, and no fewer than three human beings, who have gotten along just fine with their blood coursing through them as evenly as Freon through an air conditioner."
Neil deGrasse Tyson gives testimony on March 7, 2012 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (Majority member page) (Minority member page) Eight minutes of speech followed by questioning and response. [more inside]
NASA has announced that the latest Kepler data dump contains 1,091 extrasolar planet candidates, with 196 Earth-sized planets among them. The data shows "a clear trend toward smaller planets at longer orbital periods is evident with each new catalog release. This suggests that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone are forthcoming if, indeed, such planets are abundant." Total Kepler candidates as of February 27, 2012: 2,321. [more inside]
The International Space Station is a complex place, with loads of gear packed into its 916 cubic meters of pressurized volume. SpaceRef has an assortment of detailed technical documents describing everything from basic operations to emergency procedures. For a general overview, see the excellent NASA ISS Reference Guide (pdf).
Fifty years ago today, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. In an recent interview, he lamented the decline of the manned US space program: "It's unseemly to me that here we are, supposedly the world's greatest space-faring nation, and we don't even have a way to get back and forth to our own International Space Station." [more inside]
A brief video of a tornado on the surface of the sun posted by NPR, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (links to various sizes and qualities of downloads here). The tornado is larger than Earth itself and has gusts up to 300,000 miles per hour.
The Blue Marble is a famous photograph of Earth, taken by the crew of Apollo 17 on December 7th 1972, as they traveled to the moon. On January 23th, 2012, the Suomi NPP satellite snapped a similar, high definition photo, called Blue Marble 2012. By sure to check out the other side of the Marble, how the photos were taken and a PDF that describes the NPP project.
Having now traversed 34 kilometres (21 miles) across the surface of Mars and exceeding it's 90-day mission to explore Mars by 2,830 days, NASA's Opportunity rover turned 8 years old today. So what's the feisty martian robot been up to lately? It's now exploring the rim of the 14-mile-wide Endeavor crater, discovering "slam-dunk" evidence that water once flowed through underground fractures, and is being strategically positioned at a 15-degree angle for a long winter suntan.
Astronomers using data from NASA's Kepler mission have discovered the three smallest planets yet detected orbiting a star beyond our sun. The planets orbit a single star, called KOI-961, and are 0.78, 0.73 and 0.57 times the radius of Earth. The smallest is about the size of Mars.
Today, NASA goes open source with its code, joining endeavours such as SpaceHack [previously], WorldWind and (for more worldly coders) Github, GoogleCode, and the venerable SourceForge.
At one point, Stafford recognized a landmark crater, Censorinus A. He was momentarily distracted by the dramatic shadows and giant boulders surrounding the crater. “I’ve got Censorinus A right here,” he said out loud to the world, “bigger than shit!” A shocked reporter listening to the transmission in mission control turned to astronaut Jack Schmitt. “What did Colonel Stafford just say?” Thinking quickly, Schmitt covered for his colleague and replied “He said, ‘Oh, there’s Censorinus… bigger than Schmitt!’”
How not to swear on the moon, and other fun facts from Vintage Space.
How not to swear on the moon, and other fun facts from Vintage Space.
King of the Cosmos (A Profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson) by Carl Zimmer. (Via) [more inside]
Click the photo at the top of the linked page to view The Voyagers, a rumination on the universe, love, a golden record and two small space probes.
There's Hard Rock, Soft Rock, Punk Rock, Folk Rock, Progressive Rock, Alt Rock, Art Rock, Acid Rock, Indie Rock, Grunge Rock, Schoolhouse Rock, 30 Rock, and now there's Third Rock, an internet radio station "powered by NASA", yes, NASA. (Think of it as 'New Music' with commercials for something you already like)
Fire tests on the International Space Station are showing some really neat results, including that fire can burn in microgravity at lower temperatures and with less oxygen. Video included at the link. [more inside]
One of my favorite blogs happens to be local to me. Eric Berger, the Houston Chronicle's "SciGuy" usually reports on the weather. But he also posts entertaining and serious stuff as well. [more inside]
NASA is hiring new astronaut candidates. Positions are open for all qualified U.S. citizens. [more inside]
NASA is designing a spiffy new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will lob people and cargo to the moon, an asteroid and eventually Mars. [more inside]
Rename the VLA (Very Large Array)! The famous desert radio telescope, made of a bunch of independently movable giant satellite dishes, has just finished a ten-year upgrade and they're holding a contest to pick a new name in celebration. Deadline December 1. (via Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy, which mentions another naming contest, for schoolkids in the US to pick a name for the GRAIL satellites)
Tiangong 1, [the] latest demonstration of Beijing's otherworldly ambitions comes in a year when the US has wound down its space shuttle fleet and its partners have said the International Space Station (previously) should be buried at sea in 2020. Perhaps in its honor, [s]trains of the famed American patriotic tune (America the Beautiful) rang out following the launch of the Tiang Gong-1 experimental space station module late Thursday night. [more inside]
Some time late tonight or early tomorrow morning, NASA's UARS (a satellite deployed in 1991 to study the ozone layer) will fall to the Earth. The odds of it hitting you are about 1 in 20 trillion, but the odds of it hitting somebody somewhere is about 1 in 3,200. The Planetary Society Blog has a nice writeup as well. Follow along yourself with NASA or the Center for Orbital Reentry Debris Studies. [more inside]
Hey, remember the ISS, that space station the Space Shuttle helped build before the shuttle was retired? Turns out humans might have to vacate that nifty space station for a bit. [more inside]
Breathtaking first-person-view wingsuit flights in the Swiss Alps and around Europe. Jetman (with a turbine-powered strap-on wing) flies the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, NASA continues work on the Puffin: an electric VTOL "personal air vehicle". [more inside]
In July 1969, just two days prior to the launch of Apollo 11, six intrepid aquanauts climbed into a submarine built in the mountains of Switzerland, slipped beneath the waves near Palm Beach, Florida, and switched off their motors. Thirty-one days later, they surfaced about 300 miles from Halifax, Nova Scotia, having drifted 1444 miles in the Grumman/Piccard research submersible PX-15 Ben Franklin. [more inside]
NASA Proves Building Blocks Of DNA Come From Space. "NASA researchers studying meteorites have found that they contain several of the components needed to make DNA on Earth. The discovery provides support for the idea that the building blocks for DNA were likely created in space, and carried to Earth on objects, like meteorites, that crashed into the planet’s surface. According to the theory, the ready-made DNA parts could have then assembled under Earth’s early conditions to create the first DNA."
NASA's Juno spacecraft launched this morning and is en route to Jupiter (launch video). Equipped with microwave, ultraviolet, infrared, and visible light detectors Juno will investigate the origins, atmosphere, and magnetosphere of the Solar System's largest planets over one year beginning with its arrival in 2016. Using its awesome solar-powered technology Juno will show Jupiter's magnetic field in detail never before seen. We probably won't hear much from Juno again until 2013, when it makes a fly-by of Earth. You can follow Juno on Twitter, so if it types out its scream, someone will hear it. Also
screaming traveling aboard Juno are three very special LEGO mini-figurines.
The Mix Tape of the Gods: made to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per second, now traveling 300 million miles per year
August and September 2011 mark 34 years in the journeys of Voyager 1 and 2. The two scientific probes, progeny of the Mariner program, were sent out to survey this solar system and beyond. Voyager 2 completed the Grand Tour in 2009 (excluding Pluto), and Voyager 1 is getting closer to interstellar space (previously). Both scientific probes were sent out in with a time capsule from 1977, golden records secured in plain view on the outside of the Voyager Spacecraft. These greetings from earth (alt links: Coral Cache, Archive.org) were recorded in the form of 116 images, a collection of sounds of this planet, greetings in 55 languages (YT), 27 songs from around the world, and brain waves of Ann Druyan, then recently engaged to Carl Sagan. For all that work, the "Mix Tape of the Gods" almost didn't get sent into space because of some last-minute writing in the run-outs. [more inside]
NASA May Have Discovered Flowing Water on Mars Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere.
Jupiter has lots. Mars has some, too, as does Neptune. Turns out Earth's got a trojan asteroid of its own. Meet 2010 TK7, the blue planet's new baby brother.
Initially the conventional wisdom was that spacesuits “would be like rockets: adamantine, metallic, armored and smooth.” But in practice, rigid spacesuits repeatedly failed under testing. So when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon they were protected from the vacuum of space by flexible spacesuits crafted from twenty-one layers of fabric, “each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles” for the Playtex Corporation. The Spirit of the Spacesuit , Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo [more inside]
Pluto may have been downsized in 2006, but it's still living large, moon wise: A fourth moon has been discovered orbiting the dwarf planet.
Dawn spacecraft now orbits asteroid Vesta - After almost 4 years of space travel, the Dawn spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Vesta, an Arizona sized rock. Dawn tweets, takes pictures, and there is a Vesta Fiesta party to celebrate. After hanging out at Vesta for a year, Dawn will head off to visit the Ceres asteroid next, a three year trip. Amazing achievement of engineering, innovation and accuracy.
On July 5th the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured video of a comet, known as a sungrazer, in route to collide with our star. SOHO is equipped with an occluding coronograph that blocks direct sunlight and reveals the corona, but also prevents direct study of the terminal impact of sungrazers. But on July 6th, with the help of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), astronomers were able to observe the comet (slyt) streaking in front of the surface of the sun for the first time in history. It likely disintegrated before impact due to extreme heat and radiation.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, is scheduled to lift off this morning from Kennedy Space Center. The time was originally scheduled for 11:26 AM EDT, but that has been pushed back, despite "no technical concerns and... weather is a 'go'." Astronauts aboard are Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. Watch live coverage, with some archival footage, on NASA's Ustream or on NASA.gov. NASA has provided countdown highlights of the day to get you up to speed. Read NASA's feed on Twitter. At the time of this post's writing, the countdown clock is on a scheduled hold with 9 minutes to go. Previously, STS-134, on the Blue.
Sunspots, first observed by Galileo, normally follow an 11-year cycle. We are into a few years into (recorded) cycle number 24 but according to NASA it's looking rather underpowered. Nobody is certain exactly what the consequences will be, but one distinct possibility is a cold period; a previous low in solar activity, the Maunder minimum, is correlated with a brief Little Ice Age. Nobody really knows how this unusual solar weather pattern might interact with human-caused climate change. Previously, albeit somewhat controversially.
An 'armchair astronomer' named David Martines has found something on Google Mars which he believes is some kind of space station. Allegedly, NASA is investigating the image. Another theory says that what he sees is a "linear streak artifact produced by a cosmic ray".
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has announced: NASA has ended operational planning activities for the Mars rover Spirit and transitioned the Mars Exploration Rover Project to a single-rover operation focused on Spirit's still-active twin, Opportunity. New Scientist has a quality obituary for the little Mars Rover that could.
On May 16, 2011, after one scrubbed attempt, the space shuttle Endeavour set off on her final mission, STS-134. Shuttle commander Mark Kelly had this to say after receiving a "go" from the launch poll:
On this final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, we want to thank all the tens of thousands of dedicated employees that have put their hands on this incredible ship and dedicated their lives to the space shuttle program. As Americans, we Endeavour to build a better life than the generation before, and we Endeavour to be a united nation. In these efforts, we are often tested. This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment, and exploration. It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore; we must not stop. To all the millions watching today, including our spouses, children, family, and friends, we thank you for your support.You've seen launches before, but NASA has uploaded a whole slew of angles that will truly amaze: Witness 4.4 million pounds of shuttle, fuel, and rocket boosters "twang" a full 18 inches as the main engines ignite. 1.2 million pounds of thrust push against a locked down stack, waiting for the solid rocket boosters to ignite. (The SRBs bring the total to 7 million lbs of thrust, enough to break all that binds her to the pad.) OTV Camera 71, a fantastic, short close-up. UCS-15 (TV-21A) provides a dead-on, close up shot of the launch. The South Beach Tracker shot offers a fantastic view as well. From 3.1 miles away at the Press Site, note the ~11 second delay before the piercing sound of the SRBs hits. And just released today, fantastic footage from the solid rocket boosters, including their trip to splashdown in the Atlantic ocean from 30 miles up. And finally, the classic NASA view, with some great data overlays by Spacevidcast. [more inside]